More Music, Less Music 

Eighth blackbird challenges itself with minimalism.

click to enlarge “You hear a struggle in the sound.” The Grammy-winning eighth blackbird returns to the Modlin Center with a program of challenging minimalist works.
  • “You hear a struggle in the sound.” The Grammy-winning eighth blackbird returns to the Modlin Center with a program of challenging minimalist works.

Eighth blackbird flutist Tim Munro uses words such as "confrontational," "dangerous" and "medieval torture device" when he talks about the sextet's upcoming performance. But don't be alarmed. No humans will be harmed in the performance of "Less Is More," a concert inspired by minimalism in visual art.
Your notion of what minimalism means, however, might take some abuse, which is exactly what the new music ensemble intends. "We sort of want to play with our audience," Munro says. He suggests, for example, that the concert's title leads to the question, less what? Less volume? Fewer notes? Less political? Less able to make money?

Less work isn't one of the options. All six of the works on the program are demanding in different ways, but the group relishes hard work. "We bring more to the audience when we are challenged," he says.

One of those challenging pieces is "This bag is not a toy," by Kurt Rohde, a winner of eighth blackbird's recent composition contest. While the music is somewhat lighthearted, it's difficult to play. In the score, such words as "careening" and "spastic" share space with instructions for some of the musicians to clap or switch to harmonica. "We might have an accident," Munro says, as if that would be merely one of several intriguing outcomes.

Alvin Lucier's "Fidelio Trio" for viola, cello and piano certainly uses fewer pitches than average and a decidedly noncareening tempo. But the composer instructs the string players to take a physically challenging 12-seconds-per-bow stroke. "You hear a struggle in the sound," Munro says. The effect of the whole piece "takes your brain in a different direction."

Eighth blackbird, ensemble-in-residence at the University of Richmond, just won its second Grammy Award. The album, "Lonely Motel: Music from 'Slide,'" earned the group best small ensemble honors. The Modlin Center was a co-commissioner of "Slide," a theatrical work with music by Steve Mackey written for the ensemble.

There doesn't seem to be anything "less" about eighth blackbird, which performs to acclaim around the world and holds residencies or titled posts at three universities, with a fourth beginning in September. Well, maybe there's one thing: "We try not to take ourselves too seriously," Munro says. S

Eighth blackbird performs "Less Is More" at the University of Richmond's Modlin Center on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. $10-$20. For information, go to modlin.richmond.edu.

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